By Nisha Susan
If you ever watch one of those Scandinavian TV shows and see the Prime Minister cycling to work or shopping in the supermarket, you like me, have probably been overcome by an apoplectic mixture of shock, envy, disbelief and giggles. A few months ago, one evening, I leaned against the walls of a building that I thought was the national theatre in Oslo to fix my shoes and was told half an hour later that it was actually the Parliament. Sorry, what? Where were the guards, dobermans or even just a couple of lights? You switched them off to save bijli or what?
All this to say, they do this democracy thing differently in different countries. But some things are so same-to-same that it should warm the cockles of your heart. This morning I read a news item from New Zealand and my head reeled a bit. The New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, has been going regularly to a small cafe in Auckland. Jolly, yes?
No. Because while there he has been pulling the ponytail of a female staff member. Once? No. Regularly! After it happened a couple of times, the waitress objected. She backed away, said no. It happened again a couple of times later. She said no and threatened to punch him in the face if he did it again. (Someone give the woman a prize.) The PM’s wife Bronagh Key was witness to this bizarre behaviour once and told him to stop and “leave the poor girl alone”. He continued. It was only after the waitress threatened to hit the premier of her nation that he stopped. He came back two weeks later with a couple of bottles of wine mumbling reportedly that “HE DIDN’T REALISE”! Didn’t realise what, asshole?
As the waitress wrote in a blog post later: “No one else had ever thought it was ok to walk into the cafe and pull the waitresses hair, so why did the Prime Minister think it was ok?” She also writes: “Before I could say a word he’d already hightailed it out of there, the grinning assassin appearing as if he was the nice guy, whilst no doubt following someone else’s advice to contain the situation before it really got out of hand, and I pretty much felt like in my hands was a bribe. “I didn’t realise”. Really?! That was almost more offensive than the harassment itself.”
After the blog post John Key has now “apologised”. “There’s always lots of horsing around and sort of practical jokes and that’s all there really was to it,” he said. Oh yeah, that’s all there was to it. When the most powerful person in your country is pulling your hair. Sure. Or closer home when the accusation is that the PM in waiting was using state machinery to stalk a young woman. Sure, let’s think of the kindest, least terrifying explanation of all. He was just horsing around. He was just watching out for her. Because how else do you sleep at night ever again?
The cool or lack of cool, the formality or informality of leadership doesn’t seem to make a difference. As long as the model of leadership is a masculine one, it doesn’t seem to make a difference if your leader is a sanctimonious teetotaler, a ‘friendly’ dude who drinks coffee in a local cafe or a beer-lover who chugs pints for contests.
PS: Wanna bet that in a few hours there will be some story about the waitress to show that she was not so innocent after all? That she and her ponytail was just asking for it?